First-Ever African American Cultural Center May Be Coming to Long Beach

A Black History Month exhibit at the Expo Arts Center earlier this month. Photos by Stephanie Rivera.

Over the last four years Long Beach Councilman Al Austin has been hosting Black History Month celebrations every February at the Expo Arts Center.

A mainstay among the various exhibits showcased in the Bixby Knolls building during the weekend-long festivities is the “Forgotten Images” traveling educational exhibit and museum featuring thousands of artifacts that span two centuries of the African American experience.

Austin said after hosting these celebrations for three days every year and receiving positive feedback about “Forgotten Images” and other exhibits from residents—even the mayor—he decided to start the conversation on finding a permanent space.

“This is something that at least once a year, during that little period of time, it makes a community feel special,” Austin told the Post. “And also some painful reminders as well of a history that I don’t think any of us are proud of. At the same time, there’s art, there’s a sense of culture, there’s a sense of community during that period of time.”

On Tuesday, Austin—with support from Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and Councilman Dee Andrews—will bring the idea to create an African American Cultural Center before city council.

If approved, his agenda item would request the city manager work with community stakeholders to identify potential sites in Long Beach. While he hopes a place can be found in central or north Long Beach, where there is a high concentration of African Americans, Austin said any place is better than no site to acknowledge the deep, rich African American heritage in the city.

Sharon McLucas, who with her husband David created the Forgotten Images exhibit, talks about some of her collected artifacts during a recent Black History Month event at the Expo Arts center.

The goal is to ultimately have something comparable to the MOLAA or other brick and mortar spaces where Austin envisions a site that can host traveling exhibits, year-round events and educational symposiums specific to the African American community.

Over 60,000 African Americans live in Long Beach, about 13 percent of the total population, with many notable trailblazers and pioneers like civil rights leader Ernest S. McBride and Doris Topsy-Elvord, who was the first African American councilwoman.

Most recently, brothers Kelvin and Cletus Anderson have made a musical mark in Long Beach history with their iconic record store World Famous VIP Records, now closed, which helped launch the career of Snoop Dogg. In December, Mayor Robert Garcia presented the Andersons with a proclamation and the city council recognized the VIP Records sign as a historical landmark.

“It’s really important that we recognize historical landmarks across the city but it’s also important that we recognize Black history in Long Beach, Black culture and the Black experience,” Garcia said then. “And VIP was a very big part of that.”

Owners of VIP Records Honored By Mayor for Contributions to Long Beach

VIP Records now has its eyes set on creating a multimedia center, black music museum and business incubator with President Shirin Senegal expressing interest in reaching out and working with Austin who said he hopes to build out some community infrastructure and private support for the cultural center.

According to Senegal, lacking support from the Sixth District on VIP’s goals, she has met with Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez who is working to help with the museum and multimedia center. VIP has already put a bid to purchase the city-owned property on Martin Luther King Jr. and Pacific avenues, across the original VIP Records location. A new site for the historical sign has not yet been located.

“This is a city with a deep, rich African American heritage and community inclusivity,” Austin said. “There’s a lot of first here, and there’s a lot of good history just in Long Beach.”

The city council will meet Tuesday, February 20 at 5:00PM in the Council Chamber inside city hall, located at 333 West Ocean Boulevard.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.